This summer saw the enactment of the Bribery Act 2010, a wide-reaching Act of Parliament passed in an attempt to stamp out bribery and corruption in the UK and beyond.  The Act sets out various criminal offences, including bribing another person and receiving a bribe.

So where is the line between generosity and a bribe?  How can you be sure you are not falling foul of the law when you hand over or receive a gift?

According to the Act, a bribe involves offering, promising or giving a financial (or other) advantage to a person to perform a “relevant function or activity” improperly.  Relevant functions or activities include functions of a public nature and activities performed in the course of employment.  So offering a traffic warden a bottle of wine to ignore the fact your car is parked illegally would constitute a bribe!

This seems fairly self-explanatory.  However, what if you were to offer a client a free lunch in return for retaining business? This involves offering an advantage to another person in the course of employment, with a view to inducing that person to choose you over your competitors.  Is this a bribe under the Act?

Technically, it could be. However, the Government has made it clear that hospitality which is proportionate and reasonable in the circumstances is generally acceptable.

Other important points to bear in mind are as follows.  First, any person with a close connection to the UK (i.e. a British citizen) can be guilty of an offence under the Act no matter where in the world the bribery took place.  So if you offer money to a bus conductor in Outer Mongolia in the hope you will get a good seat, you could potentially be guilty of a criminal offence under UK law.

Second, “commercial organisations” or businesses now have to be extremely careful.  Commercial organisations will be guilty of a criminal offence if any person bribes another on the organisation’s behalf.  However, if the commercial organisation can prove it had “adequate procedures” in place to prevent bribery and corruption then it can defend any prosecution.  Adequate procedures include ensuring staff members are trained appropriately.

If found guilty of an offence under the Act, individuals face up to ten years’ imprisonment and an unlimited fine, so you should be careful to ensure that the line between generosity and bribery is not crossed!